“I think it’s time for that discussion,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson (R). “Across the country, if you see some of the numbers, you look at the research, I don’t think it traditionally aids either side. The rules are the same, as long as it’s a level playing ground and people understand the rules going into it, I think it’s a discussion the legislature should have.”
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Watson said he expected this year’s numbers to “eclipse” the 1.2 million votes cast in the 2016 presidential election. The state also saw a historic number of absentee ballots, with approximately 250,000 filed by Tuesday. “The turnout today has been incredible all across Mississippi,” Watson said.
At McLeod Elementary School in Jackson, surprised voters showed up to lines up and down the block. Teacher Ashley Duncan, 32, previously voted absentee as a college student at Mississippi State and waited for two hours to cast her vote in person. “I didn’t expect it to be this long, but I’m glad people are coming to vote,” she said. “You usually get in and out within 10 minutes.”
Angelette Cleveland, 47, and her daughter Taylor Cleveland, 24, of Jackson, leaned against the wall while the line inched forward. “I know everybody is hyped up about this election, so I feel like it’s going to be a great turnout at all the voting polls,” Angelette said. “So I’m actually happy to see so many people.”
As the dark of night set in, lines only grew at Word of Life Church in Flowood, filled with people getting off work. Ashley Newman, 29, of Flowood, snapped a picture and posted it to Twitter during her two-hour wait. Pizza To The Polls responded and sent nine pizzas to the church, but Newman didn’t take a slice. She told delivery driver Tim Segal to hand it to others in line — she worried some would leave if they got hungry. “It was a long line, and I’m sure some people weren’t planning for it to be a long line,” she said.
Newman has friends in other states who voted early, an option she wishes she had. “There are some times when you can’t get off work,” she said. “It’s a convenience factor. Maybe some people who can’t come out today are giving up their chance to vote. If we had early voting, that wouldn’t be the case.”
Co-workers Kerin Harris, 34, and Stephanie Hollingsworth, 52, both of Flowood, first tried to vote Tuesday morning when the polls opened at 7 a.m. At that point, there was only one line, and it reached the street. Fearful they’d be late for work, they left without voting. They went back Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. They waited in line for an hour and a half and still had a wait ahead of them. “I should have stayed this morning, I guess,” Harris said. “I think it’s longer now.”
Hollingsworth noted that voters were socially distanced Tuesday morning and “more spread out.” By Tuesday afternoon, that was no longer the case. Lifelong voters, both women said they had never experienced long wait times or lines like they saw Tuesday.
At the back of the line, Dcharay Brown, 25, of Flowood, said he left work early to get to the polls. Not knowing Mississippi doesn’t have early voting, Brown tried to vote on Saturday. He didn’t meet the requirement to vote absentee. A first-time voter, Brown said he was voting because of his 1-year-old daughter, Madisyn. “I am determined to stay in line,” Brown said. “Madisyn’s life depends on this.” The long lines, he said, “just shows that a lot of people do care, whether they go from Trump of Biden, everybody wants to be heard.”
Brown missed the 2016 election because he didn’t register to vote in time but said he will make sure his daughter is registered when she turns 18. Until then, he intends to lead by example, regardless of how long the process takes. “As a man, I believe we should stand up, and every man in this world that’s over the age of 18 should be here voting because, at the end of the day, our kids are looking up to us.”
State Rep. Shanda Yates (D) heard about the “crazy long” lines and showed up at McLeod to hand out pizza to voters. “I only had 10 minutes at my precinct, I voted earlier, so I just grabbed pizzas and thought people might be hungry, people have been standing in line through lunch,” she said. Yates is a proponent of early voting and, looking around at voters in line, said the wait times were “frustrating.”
“Great turnout is wonderful,” she said. “If some of these people could have voted in person earlier, so they didn’t have to stand in line for three hours, miss three hours of work, be in a large crowd — I think everyone would have liked that.”
Amy Naron, 42, of Brandon, walked up to vote at 7:02 p.m., two minutes after the polls closed. She was turned away. It was her “fourth or fifth” trip to the precinct. She first tried to vote when the polls opened at 7 a.m., but the lines were too long and she had to get to work. She came back on her lunch break and again encountered long lines. “I kept coming back, coming back, stood in line for probably 45 minutes, the line wasn’t really moving,” she said. “Now, here I am and I didn’t make it in time.”
Naron said she’s voted in every election since she was 18. “I’m very proud that so many people have come out to vote, I think it’s a great turnout, but it makes me upset I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It’s a big one. I don’t know if I would make or break it, but I still like to think I count.”